Quick Printing
April 2006
7 great little management ideas
Sometimes several small strategies are better than one big magic bullet
Everyone seems to always be looking for that one big idea to put their printing firm over the top. Through the years, I’ve seen a lot of printers looking for that special piece of equipment, or that one marketing strategy, that will crush the competition. When it happens, there’s nothing more exhilarating than discovering a big idea.

But in my experience, those magical big wins are few and far between. I’ve discovered it’s far more beneficial to focus on implementing a lot of really good little ideas that make my printing firm a better place. I like little ideas. They’re helpful, they’re often easy to implement, and they don’t cost a lot of money. In fact, if I’m to be totally candid, I’ve had several of those big wins during my career in printing, but it’s been my ability to implement and sustain numerous little ideas that’s been the cornerstone of my success.
So, I’m going to share seven of my favourite little tips. And, by the way, don’t laugh until you’ve tried them all.

1 Pay managers 125% of the average wage of the team they manage Personally, I’ve seen too many high-priced, over-paid managers. I think it’s dangerous to your printing firm’s morale and bottom-line profits when managers are paid a lot more than the team they manage. Under my system, managers can raise their own wages if they raise the wages of their co-workers. How do they do that? By increasing productivity, which in turn creates profits to pay more wages for everyone.

2 “ Explain it to me like I’m two-years
old” That’s what the poor, street-smart lawyer, played by Denzel Washington, said to the successful, big-city lawyer, played by Tom Hanks, in the movie Philadelphia. I’ve wasted a lot of time listening to people trying to impress me with how smart they are and how much they know. So, I’ve learned to politely interrupt and ask, “Can I ask a favour? Will you just explain it to me like I’m two years old?” They usually get a blank look on their faces, and then they get right to the point. That’s a good thing, and it will help you make better decisions, faster.

3 Doing three things at once I once
dated a beautiful waitress who worked at an exclusive restaurant in Fargo. She told me about a seminar for waitresses she’d recently been to and I asked her, “What was the best idea you learned in your seminar?” I’ll never forget her answer: “They told us to never leave the kitchen unless you’re carrying out three things for your customers, and to never return to the kitchen until you’ve visited three tables and checked in with your patrons to see if they need anything.” I liked the idea so much, I began to practice it daily. I never, I mean never, leave my office to walk into the print shop unless I have three things in my hands that I need to do. It’s made me more efficient, and the piles on my desk go away faster. Oh, one last thing: I married that waitress. I guess being a big tipper has its rewards, too.

4 Practice saying “no” until your
tongue bleeds My Grandpa Stevens taught me this many years ago. We managers and business owners are an optimistic bunch who like to say yes. We want to please people and we like it when everyone likes us. So, we often say yes just because it feels good. But agreeing isn’t always a good thing. Saying yes prematurely can cause more problems than it solves, and it can be expensive. So I’ve learned to say no a lot. I like to say no, because when I say yes, things start to happen. If I later realize that what I agreed to is not a good thing and have to switch direction, everybody’s mad at me. “But you already said ‘yes’” is their comeback. When I say no, it gives me time to think about it. Then, if the idea seems good after a lot of thought, I say, “I’ve been thinking about it, and you’re right, let’s go forward.” Then guess what happens? I’m a hero and everybody likes me. I know it sounds a little quirky, but practicing saying no until your tongue bleeds is a good habit.

5 “ Here’s how we do it here” This is
my training mantra. My employees all probably hear me say it up to five times a year. With so much diversity in the workplace, our printing firms are filled with workers from many different backgrounds who have many pre-conceived ideas about how things should be done. Well, at my print shop we only have one way—the Express Press way—and continually saying, “Here’s how we do it here,” reminds my employees that we have our own well-thought-out systems, policies and procedures, without belittling their idea or diminishing their previous experience.

6 We will not lose between 250 and
5,000 I consider myself a high-quality commercial quick printer. We can do 10 copies or a half million impressions, but our specialty is 250 to 5,000 impressions. I continually remind my staff that this is our target market, and we must do everything we can to win all the printing jobs in that bracket. When your customer service team knows your target market with such clarity, it’s more likely that your firm will succeed. Most of the printing that is purchased in my community falls within the 250 to 5,000 impressions category, and we try hard to be the printer of choice for these run lengths.
7 What’s your next action? Through
the years, many employees have walked up to me and, without warning, shared what they believed to be a good idea. I’d write it down, and add it to my list of a couple hundred other good ideas I’d already accumulated but hadn’t had the time to implement. Sometimes employees became resentful because I hadn’t acted on their ideas. And sometimes, they accused me of not caring about their suggestions, when the truth was, there simply wasn’t enough time to study each one.
Then I learned a better way to deal with suggestions. Now, when someone shares an idea, I smile and nod my head in a positive manner, and I say, “I like that idea, what’s your next action?” That question triggers a couple of very positive things. First, I positively reinforce the employee. Second, I have returned ownership of the idea to him. I’ve made it clear that it is his idea, and he is accountable for moving it forward. Instead of feeling the pressure of adding one more thing on my already overcrowded to-do list—I’ve empowered the worker with the responsibility of helping to make our printing firm a better place.
There you have it, seven little ideas that you can use every day at your firm. Do you have any good little ideas you’d like to share with me in return? I look forward to hearing from you—please consider e-mailing me.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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